Charles uses trowel to plant potato no dig

March update 2019 – sow, plant, winter veg, new online course

12th March and the weather has been wild, the famous March lion, so I look forward to quieter conditions soon – a full moon on the equinox may initiate a shift! We had a gust of 63mph on 10th and it ripped a hole in my six year old polythene on the tunnel: I was on a stepladder for 20 minutes with tape, managed to pull it together for now, but the tunnel may need a recover this spring.

More worryingly, my greenhouse was swaying visibly! I am sure it should not. Gardening is full of surprises, mostly good and March is the beginning of seven months of many sowings. We have already planted (from February sowings) a few radish, peas for shoots, turnips and spinach, all multi-sown and now protected by fleece right on top of the seedlings.

March also sees many harvests from overwintered plants if your climate is good for that, not Ontario! We are fortunate to be mild oceanic, which also means the summers are not hot.

Seed starts

Improving your propagation skills can massively increase harvests, by extending the season and ensuring that beds stay full of plants, with few gaps at any time. The pallet we just installed helps me raise a thousand or so extra lettuce mostly, for selling salad bags this spring.

My propagation video has a lot more detail about sowing and germination. Huw Richards of Huw’s Nursery also made a video about my pallet idea, which is helping him reduce rodent damage to seedlings in his polytunnel. Huw is only 19, full of passion for gardening and great ideas, just wrote his first book too.

Not all plain sailing

Two problems I have encountered in propagation are ammonia gases from the hotbed, which singes some leaves for a few days when the manure is fresh, and too much wood in compost. This was my own compost I was trialling, not a success for propagating! But great for mulching beds and feeding soil life from the surface – it is mostly decomposed, but potting composts need amazingly little undecomposed wood for seedling growth to be stunted.

When composts with a little undecomposed wood are on the surface, plants root into soil and compost below and grow healthily. as Homeacres demonstrates.

New sowings

I am sowing tomatoes next week, together with celeriac and celery. You can also sow any of the seeds I show here and it’s a great time for sowing peas outside, as long as you don’t have mice, in which case sow indoors.

You can plant first early potatoes and onion sets, sow carrots and parsnips outside in milder areas, but there is no rush on that one, best wait for mild conditions. Wait until April for sowing cucumbers, sweetcorn et al.

First plantings – planting not sowing

Current sowings are frost hardy and can go into cool soil, helped by fleece/row covers sitting on top. I find that works better than using hoops, also the fleece does not blow away!

The peas are Alderman, sown three to a cell and planted deep as 16 day old seedlings, see how they look 13 days later (yesterday 11th March).

My continuing trial

This is my thirteenth year of comparing growth in dig and no dig beds, side by side and with the same amount of compost. See this page for details. We made the first plantings 11th March, about half of both beds are planted so far.

Last December I dug the left hand bed plus incorporated two large barrows of compost – 50% horse manure, 25% homemade and 25% mushroom compost. The same amount of compost simply went on top of the no dig bed. Both beds have been raked to disturb/kill baby weed seedlings and break up lumps.

Winter vegetables

Savoy cabbage is a winner from sowing early to mid summer, depending on your climate. I find they are less popular with pigeons than other brassicas, and their hearts are frost hardy.

Pak choi is another hardy vegetable but not easy to grow with so many pests loving its tender leaves. Outdoor greens like these complement the continuing array of stored and root vegetables.

New online course, no dig gardening

My new course went live 12 days ago and is selling well. Many buyers are in the USA, a fair few in Europe and it’s a way of gaining loads of knowledge about no dig, when you can’t come on a Homeacres course.

This link is for a video explaining how the online course works, including the quizzes.

At Homeacres we had unexpectedly glorious weather for the weekend course in February sunshine, then did amazingly well over two days in March winds. There is already lots to see here and for winter courses, the polytunnel and greenhouse are useful. Steph’s lunches always nourish and inspire, her Creative Kitchen book has many of the seasonal recipes.

Steph’s talks

Steph is a skilful gardener as well as chef. She is giving two talks at Gardeners World Live in June (Birmingham NEC), and before that is giving a no dig talk at Tobyfest in Powderham Castle, Devon on Friday 4th May.

29 thoughts on “March update 2019 – sow, plant, winter veg, new online course

  1. Charles, Good afternoon,
    I like many elderly gardeners are seeking replacement polystyrene seed modules like the picture on your site.
    Can you please advise if they are still manufactured and if so from whom can I get them.
    I’m only interested in the 40 cell ones as I have three large allotments to cultivate.
    Your advice will be much appreciated.

    1. Hello Roy, sadly they are not often available unless you might find discards in plant nurseries. Check Containerwise for 40 cels in sturdy plastic.

  2. Hi Charles. Can I ask where you buy your fleece from as all the fleece I buy seems to fall apart in just a few weeks?

  3. Hi Charles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom – I’m loving all your videos and advice. This is the first year in our new house with huge vegetable garden – your videos have given me lots of knowledge & confidence. Currently the vegetable garden has a chicken wire fence around to keep the rabbits out – there are lots in the garden. I’d like to take it down to have an open garden but everyone says I’m mad and everything will get eaten. I note you also have rabbits but have an open garden. Can you please advise on what is best? I note you have mentioned they are not so interested in what is under fleece but as things grow they cannot always be fleeced e.g peas.
    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Dianne and thanks.
      Sounds like your fence is keeping rabbits in as well as out. It depends partly how many there are and their hunger. Here I have a few (currently v few after disease) and they have many dandelions to eat nearby. I fond that fleece over early plantings then bird netting (see Links) over new plantings is enough protection – what they like most are little plants.
      I would do what feels best to you and taking the fence down could work!

  4. Hi Charles,
    I am new to this and love the idea.
    I have plans to have a vegetable patch.
    My question is for grass seed.
    The ground is heavy clay and the area approximately 15m×5m. I have access to well rotted horse manure.
    What depth should I lay on top before spreading the grass seed?
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Jane and grass grows like a weed so 2in/5cm would be good, scater the seed on top after spreading then rake over

  5. Very strong wind last week, unable to do any work on allotment, this week been very busy planting, peas for shoots, lettuce, salad onions, calibres, summer cabbage, red cabbage, beetroot, onions, spinage , early potatoes. brussel sprouts. everything covered with fleece. all on no dig. Other allotment holders all taking interest and asking question, I don’t think they can believe it.

  6. Hi Charles. I’ve been a no dig convert for a couple of years now but having just planted out a mixed tray of brassicas today I am heartily fed up of using the cheapo plastic 40 module trays. I have two of those polystyrene modules which are so much easier to use, but where do you find them nowadays? Anybody know of producers? There must be a market for them!

  7. Just got hold of some Daubenton kale plants. Do pigeons go for them – might have to put them in the fruit cage?

  8. Hello Charles, I’m a great fan even tho’ from this southernmost edge of Africa, you’re a tad upside down, season-wise 😉 Your note above about the effect of uncomposted wood on seedlings rang very true for me, having had a couple of successive sowings of lettuce and other greens germinate and then just fail to thrive, even after planting out. Seems I probably had too much too-fresh used coffee grounds mixed into my compost bin (I add a coupla bucketsful every week from a local coffee shop). My compost is usually ready in 3-4 months in summer, but I’m thinking all that coffee is deceptive with respect to tilth and really in need of a lot more composting before using it for seedling mix.

    1. Nice to hear from you Moira and that is interesting about the coffee which of course looks so decomposed when it isn’t! Such a compost should however work ok as thin layer on the surface.

  9. Hello Charles, so happy to be receiving your updates via email.
    Was wondering if there’s a particular seed supplier in the UK that you’ve found to be particularly reliable?
    Thanks for all you do and share.
    All the best

  10. Hi Charles,
    A wild weather time indeed. Sorry about the poly tunnel, must admit to a few worries myself but so far so good. I garden three plots and after trialing no dig in two small beds at home for two years with pleasing results, I am converting all gardens from organic dig to organic no dig. I spread 50 – 100mm of mushroom compost on all beds last autumn and am now planting early veg and just arrived raspberries. I am just a little worried after conversations and reading about mushroom compost on the RHS site about the alkalinity I am introducing, especially to the raspberry patches. Maybe it will be ok in year 1 and balance it out with a different compost next autumn. I wonder what your opinion and experience is in this area. Many thanks for an incredibly informative site. Chas

    1. Hi Charles,
      I’ve checked on the alkalinity of mushroom compost in your forum and have found not only your thoughts but an encouraging conversation between yourself and Rachel in November 2017 at #43324. Thanks to both of you.

  11. Hi Charles we had a gust of wind on Sunday at 11.00am that read on weather station as 83.9mph!!!! Fortunately the tunnel is ok. I am sorry to hear yours got torn hope it’s not serious

    1. Ali that is amazing! And well done your tunnel. Mine is old polythene and a little slack… fingers crossed until the weather calms next week

  12. Keith Gasdby
    Thanks Charles this is my 3rd year of no dig and with great success. What size modules do you use to start Alderman peas? Also I have to fork up potatoes is there a better way?
    Thanks a lot
    Keith Allotment keeper

    1. Keith no need to earth up first earlies. Later types drop compost on top as per my video.
      4cm modules for peas.

  13. Everything about your No Dig gardening makes sense and I am certainly giving it a go this year. I do grow some veg but this year I am growing more flowers…with plans to market…just wondering if Charles could introduce flower growing at some stage….I’m sure he would expand his followers greatly…..and let’s face it…everyone loves flowers…including historical veg growers ( and wives ofcourse) 🌻🌻🌻🌻Thanks.

    1. Hi Norma, nice to hear and I produced a no dig flowers video, many growers of cut flowers use my methods so it’s generally applicable.
      I wish you success this year!

      1. Hi Charles,
        I too are a fan of no dig in the growing plots and have been experimenting with broadforking them to get sufficient air into the subsoil with great success. Maybe an idea to try this new technique originates from France and USA

        1. No dig is not broadforking, which is a cultivation of the soil and breaks fungal threads, among other damages.
          Sorry your subsoil has insufficient air. In a well maintained garden I don’t see why that should be the case – only if soil has been maltreated.

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